This post was actually a request and I’m happy to share everything I know about this topic with you guys!
Being young and adventurous with chronic wanderlust but no income to fund our travels is probably the one thing many hate about being a student (or constantly broke, doesn’t really matter :D). If you know this situation all too well then don’t despair. There are a few best practices for traveling on a budget.
1. Choose your destination wisely
Traveling on a budget already starts at home. Obviously where you want to go will have a huge impact on how affordable your little escape from everyday life will be. Generally flexibility will save you a whole lot of money. Okay, maybe you just really want to go to London which is a super expensive place. But if you want to see London then there’s no way around it. But if it’s more important to you that you can spend time with friends or family, relax for a week or just explore a place you’ve never been to I recommend choosing a destination that is generally more affordable. In Prague, Athens or Tallinn the prices for food, accommodation and activities will already be a lot lower than in London. Outside larger cities prices are usually even lower. Grab a cup of hot tea and a rainy Sunday afternoon and go through the prices for different destinations to find the best deals (rankings like this one can be very helpful). It doesn’t always have to be a capital or a very popular holiday destination. I personally believe that when it comes to having a memorable holiday it’s more about the people, the weather and the activities rather than the geographic location.
2. Keep your eyes open for specials and coupons
Make sure to regularly check websites like Holidaypirates who offer great deals and error fares. Same goes for bus, train or plane tickets. If you have already chosen your destination and / or transportation find out if there are any discounts available for example when signing up for a newsletter, using a particular credit card etc. If you are a young traveler, a teacher or a student you can get great discounts on just about anything from flights to entry fees.
3. Book well in advance
Some of us still believe that we can go to the airport with our suitcases packed and score an awesomely cheap last minute deal. My experience is that it usually doesn’t work that way (anymore). You can book spontaneously but it most definitely won’t be the super cheap deal you’ve been hoping for. While working at a hotel I learned that usually it’s the other way round: the longer in advance you book the cheaper it’ll be and the more options you’ll have to choose from.
However, in some places (for instance, some Asian countries) prices for accommodation can be a lot higher online and you can score awesome deals by just walking into a hostel and asking. If Google says this is the case at your destination I’d recommend booking a room for only one or two nights and finding a cheaper option once you’re there.
4. Avoid weekends and peak seasons
Again flexibility will save you a whole lot of money. If you can travel on weekdays and avoid public holidays / summer holidays you should definitely do so. Not only will your trip be way cheaper, the place will also be less crowded which is another plus.
5. Getting there on a budget
For many destinations there are several ways to get there. If you’re not traveling very far walking or biking might actually be an option – make it part of the adventure 🙂 Usually your destination will be a little further away though. Going by bus or sharing a car (I use BlaBlaCar) are cheap options that worked really well for me in the past. Sometimes there are cheap train or flight deals as well. Flying is usually a lot cheaper if you travel with carry-on luggage only. Don’t underestimate what you can fit in there! If you’d like to visit several places or countries consider getting a rail pass. As I mentioned before you should check ticket prices regularly and keep your eyes open for coupons and deals. Feel free to get creative: I regularly combine bus, train and car sharing to get to my destinations. This works particularly well if saving money is more important to you than saving time. Now hitchhiking is usually a way to go places entirely for free. I have done this a lot myself and it worked well for me but keep in mind that it doesn’t work equally well in all places and that it’s not a very safe way of traveling. Always use common sense when considering this option! I’ll be doing a post discussing this topic more in-depth in the near future.
6. Staying there on a budget
Now getting to a place is only one part of the equation. Where are you going to sleep once you’re there? Let’s go through our options from affordable to luxurious. Couchsurfing is probably the most budget-friendly option as it is completely free. You’ll also get to know new people and there’s a good chance your host will be able to show you around town and give you some useful tips.
Camping is usually a very inexpensive option, especially in summer. In some places camping even works for city trips, for example in Amsterdam. If you don’t want to stay in a tent there are usually other options available at campsites like mobile homes or cabins that are still cheaper than staying at a hotel.
You do want to stay in an actual house? Then there are plenty of hostels available. If you don’t mind staying in a room with a bunch of other people you can save a whole lot of money. Especially if you’re traveling by yourself staying at a hostel is a fantastic way to make new friends. If you’re traveling as a group you can get an entire dorm for yourselves. This option offers all the benefits of a hostel but you won’t have to share your room with strangers.
Personally I’m in love with renting a room in someone else’s home via Airbnb. While it’s not always super cheap it does provide awesome value for money. When I traveled to Munich with a friend earlier this year we stayed at an Airbnb at the cost of a bed in a 40 bed (!) dorm. We had our own private room, bathroom and pretty much the entire apartment to ourselves as our very friendly host was rarely home anyway. If you’re on a budget but a somewhat private and quiet place is important to you Airbnb is for you.
Another group / family / couple option would be renting a holiday home. The price divided by the number of people is usually unbeatable for a place that you’ll have entirely to yourselves.
If you’d like to go for a more hotel-like standard check out private hostel rooms, guesthouses and B&Bs first as they’re usually still a bit cheaper. If there is no way around staying at an actual hotel make sure to compare prices. You’ll find some useful tips on how to do this in my post on how to avoid getting ripped off when booking. Comparing prices on websites like booking.com is essential.
What’s important though is to keep in mind that cheap prices can be traps too. For instance, your accommodation might be super cheap but also super far away from the city center. If you have to buy a bus pass / rent a car to get to your actual destination it might actually turn out to be more expensive than investing a couple more bucks and staying at a more central location. So be sure to do your math and to not let a cheap deal blind you.
7. Getting around on a budget
This leads me directly to my next tip: do your research on how you’re going to get from one place to another at your destination. Walking is always great as it’s free und you actually get to see more of the place you’re staying in. Renting a bike can also be a good idea when traveling on a budget. Especially if you’ll be using public transport it’s well worth it to find the cheapest option for you: are you going to be using the subway or tram several times a day? Then a week ticket, a tourist ticket or a travel card you can top up with credit might be cheaper (and less annoying) than buying individual tickets every single time. In some countries even taxis are pretty affordable. Before you get on a taxi though please do your research on common taxi scam techniques to avoid nasty surprises.
8. Eating on a budget
Cooking your own meals is usually cheaper than eating out. If you are staying at a place with a kitchen you can use (like a hostel or an Airbnb) you should definitely take advantage of that. If you are traveling in a group or staying at a place with lots of other people consider cooking together. The more people you are cooking for the cheaper it will get for each individual person. When you’re out and about all day stop by a grocery store and get some bread and spreads / fruit / snacks etc for a little picnic. This will be cheaper than having lunch at a restaurant.
If you do want to eat at a restaurant stay away from the main streets where sometimes waiters are even standing outside trying to drag you into overpriced tourist traps. Ask some locals for their recommendations or wander off the beaten path a little to find more affordable places to eat. The general guideline is: Eat where the locals eat. If you can, avoid eating at airports, on ferries etc. as the prices are usually quite high.
9. Find activities you can do cheaper or for free
There are actually plenty of awesome holiday activities you can enjoy for free or almost for free. Some guides offer free walking tours through the city in many places. Of course they’ll expect you to tip them but that might still be a lot cheaper than other tours. There are also often great 2 for 1 deals for city tours. You can visit many large museums (for example the Natural History Museum in London) entirely for free. All kinds of outdoor activities like hiking, swimming or sitting at a campfire with a guitar are usually for free. Google is, once more, your best friend here to find affordable activities at your destination. Don’t forget to ask locals, other tourists and receptionists for recommendations. If you’d like to do a lot of sightseeing consider getting a tourist card that offers discounts on entry fees for all major sights of a city.
10. Additional tips
Traveling with at least one other person is usually cheaper than traveling by yourself. That being said there are a few really good reasons for traveling by yourself – the choice is yours.
If you love traveling and need to make some money (e.g. while studying) anyway consider finding a job that’ll make traveling cheaper for you. For instance, working as a receptionist at a hotel allowed me to stay at every other hotel of this hotel chain for free. This way I got to travel to Hamburg, Prague and Amsterdam last year without spending a single cent on accommodation.
I strongly recommend getting a credit card that allows you to withdraw cash for free while traveling. Having to pay a fee at the ATM or getting ripped off at the currency exchange is just super unnecessary.
Hope you found these tips helpful! Do you have more tips for traveling on a budget? Please leave a comment below!